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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Lamb

About 1.3 million Americans are of Greek descent and have the majority live in New York City, Boston, and Chicago. However, Tarpon Springs, Florida is home to the highest per capita representation of Greek Americans in the country (11%).

In 1768 about 500 Greeks from Smyrna, Crete, and Mani settled in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The colony was unsuccessful, and the settlers moved to St. Augustine in 1776. The first significant Greek community to settle in the U.S. was in New Orleans, Louisiana during the 1850s. By 1866, the community was numerous and prosperous enough to have a Greek consulate and the first official Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Immigration picked up again in the 1890s and early 20th century, due largely to economic opportunity in the U.S. Most of these immigrants worked in the northeastern cities in the United States; while others labored on railroad construction and in the mines of the western states. Many Greek immigrants expected to work and return to their homeland after earning capital and dowries for their families. However, due to conflicts between Greece and Turkey, Greek immigrants lost the right to return to their homeland and were made refugees. Additionally, in 1924 the first widely implemented U.S. immigration limit against non-Western European immigrants created an impetus for immigrants to apply for citizenship and permanently settle in the U.S.

Greeks began to arrive in large numbers after 1945, fleeing the economic devastation caused by World War II and the Greek Civil War. From 1946 until 1982, approximately 211,000 Greeks emigrated to the United States. In the aftermath of the recent Greek financial crisis, there has been a resurgence of Greek emigration to New York City with the majority of the immigrants settling in Astoria, Queens.

As immigrants from various Greek areas, they settled in different regions of the United States and became “Greek Americans”. Many of their traditional foods and recipes depended on the availability of those ingredients in the U.S. so these recipes often developed into new traditions. For example, Greek Salad is called Horiatiki in Greece and the salad is made with feta and cucumber, but no lettuce—only the Greek American version of the salad contains lettuce. Greek cuisine has certainly influenced American cuisine not only with the popularity of Greek salad but also with foods like gyros, souvlaki, and baklava.

Contemporary Greek cooking makes wide use of olive oil, vegetables and herbs, grains and bread, wine, fish, and meats that include lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork. Also important are olives, cheese, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), and yogurt. Greek desserts are usually made with nuts and honey.

Below are some traditional Greek recipes for you to try.

Spanakopita (Spinach Triangles)

Ingredients

10 sheets of phyllo dough
500g spinach washed and roughly chopped (18 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 eggs, beaten
200g feta cheese, crumbled (7 ounces)
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
Melted butter for the pastry
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until soft and turning golden. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the spinach in batches and cook until wilted. Let the mixture cool down in a colander to drain. Pour into a mixing bowl. Mix in the feta cheese, eggs, nutmeg, dill, salt, and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread one sheet of the phyllo dough on the kitchen counter and keep the rest covered with a cloth.
With a cooking brush drizzle some melted butter on the phyllo sheet on the counter. Spread one more sheet on top and drizzle with some more butter.

Cut the phyllo sheets in 3-4 lengthwise pieces (depending on if you like the spanakopita triangles to be small or larger). At the end of each piece add one tablespoon of the filling. Fold one corner over the filling to form a triangle and continue folding the triangle upon itself, until the entire piece of phyllo is used. Continue with the rest of the phyllo sheets and filling.

Oil the bottom of a large baking dish, place the spanakopita triangles in the dish and brush them with more melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven at 25-30 minutes, until golden and crispy. Serve with Tzatziki Sauce.

Greek Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup plain Greek Yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh dill chopped
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, grated

Directions

Chop the cucumber into tiny pieces, place in a colander and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let drain for 20 minutes. Squeeze dry in a paper towel. Place in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

Grilled Zucchini and Lamb Chops

Ingredients

1 large zucchini
4 loin lamb chops
Marinade
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Greek seasoning or oregano
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Cut the zucchini into quarters. Combine the marinade ingredients in a ziplock food storage bag. Give it a shake. Add the lamb and zucchini, seal the bag and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Place the lamb and zucchini quarters on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Greek Couscous

Ingredients

1 cup couscous
1 cup of water
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Prepare couscous as directed on the package. (Boil the water, add couscous, stir quickly. remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes). Do not add butter and salt.

In a large bowl, mix peppers, tomatoes, and olives together well. Add couscous and stir with a fork to fluff the couscous.
Add the oil, pine nuts, and feta and stir gently to combine. Sprinkle with parsley.

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Grilled Lamb Chops

2 servings

Ingredients

4 loin lamb chops, about 1 ¼ lb total
Lemon wedges

Marinade
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon Greek seasoning store-bought (or combine equal parts of coarse salt, Turkish oregano, garlic, dried lemon zest, black pepper, and marjoram and use 1 teaspoon in this recipe)

Directions

Place the lamb chops in a medium ziplock bag with the marinade ingredients. Seal the bag, shake and store the bag in the refrigerator for several hours before grilling.

To grill the lamb chops:

Preheat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Oil the grill.
Remove the chops from the marinade and grill them over medium-high heat, turning once, until medium-rare, about 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer the chops to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, the Greek Salad, Tzatziki, and grilled pita.

Greek Vegetable Salad

2 servings

Ingredients

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in large dice
1 large tomato, seeded and cut in large dice
4 -5 pepperoncini, seeded and cut in large dice
1/4 of a red onion, cut in large dice
12 Greek olives
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano or Greek seasoning
1/2 teaspoon honey

Directions

In a serving bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, pepperoncini, onions, olives, and feta cheese. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients; shake well. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 scallion, minced
1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon za’atar or dried oregano

Directions

Place the grated cucumber in a fine-mesh sieve and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and drain for about 30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, parsley, and oregano or za’atar and stir to combine.
Add the cucumber to the yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
Cover and refrigerate for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

 

Grilled Pita Bread

A very good tasting low carb mini pita (4g net carbs) is made by Joseph’s Middle East Bakery

2 servings

Ingredients

2 small (mini) pita bread
Olive oil
Za’atar

Directions

Lightly brush both sides of each pita with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little za’atar. Place on the grill for 1 minute, turn them over and grill for 1 minute more. Serve with the Tzatziki Sauce.


Dinner For Two:

Grilled Lamb Chops And Peppers

Make the marinade early in the day.

Marinade
1 whole lemon, washed, seeded, and chopped
2 large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Lamb & Peppers
4 loin lamb chops, trimmed of extra fat
1 lb mixed peppers
Salt & Pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

To make the marinade:
Place the chopped lemon, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a food processor. A blender can also be used. If you have neither, finely chop all ingredients together.
Spread and massage the lemon paste evenly over the lamb chops. Place in a baking dish and cover, or use a large resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for several hours before cooking.

Preheat an outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan. Oil the grill grates.

To grill the peppers:
If using a grill pan for the lamb chops, place the peppers under a broiler and turn until charred on all sides.
Grill the peppers, turning occasionally, until charred all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel and seed the peppers, then cut into thin strips and season with salt and pepper.

To grill the lamb chops

Remove the chops from the marinade and grill them over medium-high heat, turning once, until medium-rare, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the chops to one side of a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Transfer the grilled peppers to the other side of the platter and drizzle with olive oil.

Old Fashioned Potato Salad

Serves 2. Double the ingredients for extra servings.

Ingredients

1 pound small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs, such as dill, parsley, basil, chives and thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 scallions (green onions), chopped

Directions

Put potatoes into a pot, cover with salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Test for doneness by inserting a fork into a potato chunk. It should slide in easily without breaking apart the potato. Immediately drain well and let cool 10 minutes.

Gently toss potatoes with sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, herbs, lemon juice, celery, onion, salt, and pepper. Cover and chill before serving.

Summer Fresh Tomato Salad

2-3 servings

Ingredients

½ cup diced red onion
1 1/2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cut into wedges
Shredded fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

For the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the mustard, vinegar, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gradually whisk in the olive oil.

Place the onion, tomatoes and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a salad serving bowl. Toss with the salad dressing. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.


The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
This series continues with the country of Algeria.

Algeria is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea and this fertile northern region is home to the olive and cork trees. Fig, agave, and various palm trees grow in the warmer areas. Central Algeria consists of the High Plateaus that contain salt marshes and shallow salt lakes. The land becomes more arid the farther south one travels, eventually becoming the Sahara Desert. Roughly 80 percent of the country is desert and camels are widely used for transportation. The coastal region has a typical Mediterranean climate—pleasant nearly year round, with winter temperatures rarely falling below freezing (32°F). Rainfall is also abundant along the coast. Farther inland, higher altitudes receive considerable frost and occasional snow. Little or no rainfall occurs throughout the summer months in this region. In the Sahara Desert, rainfall is unpredictable and unevenly distributed.

Algerian food is a mix of various influences, from Berber to Arabic to French to Jewish. Most cooking is centered around spicy couscous which is served with long-simmered meats and stews. Algerian meals are often finished with dates and fresh fruit. Algerian ingredients are essentially Mediterranean, including lamb, chicken, tomatoes, olives, peppers, eggplant, lentils, oranges and lemons. Spicy Algerian merguez sausage is famous around the world.

Algerian cuisine traces its roots to various countries and ancient cultures that once ruled, visited, or traded with the country. Berber tribesmen were one of the country’s earliest inhabitants. Their arrival, which extends as far back as 30,000 B.C., marked the beginning of wheat cultivation, smen (aged, cooked butter), and fruit consumption, such as dates. The introduction of semolina wheat by the Carthaginians (who occupied much of northern Africa) led the Algeria Berbers to first create couscous, Algeria’s national dish. The Romans, who eventually took over Algeria, also grew various grains. Muslim Arabs invaded Algeria in the 600s, bringing exotic spices such as saffron, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon from the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. They also introduced the Islamic religion to the Berbers. Islam continues to influence almost every aspect of an Algerian life, including the diet.

Olives (and olive oil) and fruits such as oranges, plums, and peaches were brought across the Mediterranean from Spain during an invasion in the 1500s. Sweet pastries from the Turkish Ottomans and tea from European traders also made their way into Algerian cuisine.

In the early 1800s, Algerians were forced to surrender their farmland to the French. The French introduced their diet and culture to the Algerians, including bread and sidewalk cafés. This French legacy remains evident in Algerian with the French language being the country’s second language.

Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, and chilies were brought over from the New World.

Sources: WHATS4EATS INTERNATIONAL RECIPES AND COOKING AROUND THE WORLD and Food in Every Country

Chakchouka is a traditional Algerian dish that’s mainly eaten for breakfast. Traditionally, the main ingredients in Chakchouka include sautéed onions, tomatoes and various spices topped with a few eggs. This meal is served with a side of bread, pita or rice.

NORTH AFRICAN EGGS POACHED IN A PEPPER RAGOUT

4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil — 3 tablespoons
Paprika — 1 to 2 tablespoons
Onion, thinly sliced — 1
Garlic, minced — 2 to 3 cloves
Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced — 3
Green and red bell peppers, diced — 2 to 3
Water — 1 cup
Salt and pepper — to taste
Eggs (optional) — 4

METHOD
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Stir in the paprika and cook slightly to color the oil, about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to reduce down a little bit. Add the peppers, water and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep it from drying out.
Using a spoon, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. One by one, crack the eggs into a small bowl and slip each from the bowl into an indentation. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Serve with crusty bread, pita or rice.

CHAKCHOUKA VARIATIONS
Add 1 teaspoon of cumin seed to the hot oil for about 15 seconds before you add the paprika. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground coriander along with the onions.
For a little spice, sauté 1 tablespoon of harissa paste or a minced chile pepper with the onions.
Sometimes fresh shrimp or a spicy lamb sausage called merguez is added to the simmering peppers along with the eggs.
Add 1 small, diced eggplant along with the peppers.
Add 1 potato, cut in a small dice, along with the peppers.
Sprinkle the top of the cooked dish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Add a few olives and capers and eliminate the eggs. Chill and serve garnished with hard-boiled eggs or tuna.

Couscous is considered the national dish of Algeria, This dish is composed of small pellets of steamed semolina pasta topped with meat, vegetables, and various spices. In Algeria, the most popular meat and vegetable accompaniments for this meal include chicken, carrots, and chickpeas. Although a rather simple dish, Couscous offers considerable freedom in its selection of ingredients.

NORTH AFRICAN STEAMED PASTA GRAINS

4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

Couscous — 2 cups
Salt — 1/2 teaspoon
Boiling water or stock — 2 cups

METHOD
Mix the couscous and salt together in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water or stock over into the bowl all at once and stir in well.
Cover the bowl with a tight-fitting lid or with plastic wrap and set aside for about 10 to 15 minutes to steam.
Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil if you like.

Harira is a traditional North African soup and recipes for this dish vary from region to region but in Algeria, Harira is often composed of lamb simmered with vegetables, spices, and herbs.

NORTH AFRICAN LAMB AND CHICKPEA STEW

6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil or butter — 1/4 cup
Lamb, cubed for stews — 1 pound
Onion, chopped — 1 large
Celery, chopped — 2 stalks
Turmeric — 1 teaspoon
Cinnamon — 1 teaspoon
Ground ginger — 1/2 teaspoon
Nutmeg — 1/4 teaspoon
Saffron — big pinch
Tomatoes, chopped — 2 cups
Water or stock — 2 quarts
Chickpeas, cooked and drained — 2 cups
Lentils — 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper — to taste
Cilantro, chopped — 1/2 cup
Parsley, chopped — 1/2 cup
Lemons, cut into wedges — 2

METHOD
Heat the oil or butter in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and celery. Sauté until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the spices and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the stock and return the meat to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, lentils, salt, and pepper and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the lentils cooked through and tender.
Adjust seasoning, stir in the cilantro and parsley and serve with lemon wedges for each diner to squeeze into their stew as desired.

HARIRA VARIATIONS
Meats: Substitute cubed chicken or beef for the lamb. Or eliminate the meat altogether for a vegetarian version.
Sometimes 2 or 3 beaten eggs are stirred into the stew at the end to make ribbons of egg in the broth.
Add 1 cup soup pasta toward the end. Or add 1 cup of rice along with the lentils. You may need to add a little more water.

 

Mechoui comes from an Arabic word meaning “roast on a fire,” and like its namesake, the meal is prepared in much the same way. This dish is composed of meat spiced and roasted over a fire that is usually served at large gatherings. In the Algerian variation, the meat is roasted on a spit giving the meat a crispy, grilled flavor.

NORTH AFRICAN SPIT-ROASTED LAMB

6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

Leg of lamb — 1 whole
Olive oil — 1/3 cup
Garlic, minced — 8 cloves
Paprika — 2 tablespoons
Coriander — 2 tablespoons
Cumin — 1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper — to season
Unsalted butter, melted — 6 tablespoons

METHOD
Trim any excess fat from the lamb, but leave enough to protect and moisten the meat. Mix the olive oil with the garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper and rub this mixture all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Set up the rotisserie (in front of the fire, not over it) and rotate the spit slowly for 4 to 5 hours, or until all the meat is cooked through, moist and tender. Salt the meat from time to time and baste it periodically with melted butter to encourage a crispy skin. Remove the spit from the fire and let the meat rest. Then use clean hands to remove the meat from the bones and onto serving platters.
Or
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the leg of lamb on a rack in a roasting pan big enough to fit it. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Set the pan in the oven and roast for 4 to 5 hours, or until the meat is cooked through and starting to fall off the bone.
Increase oven temperature to 450°F. Remove foil and return pan to oven. Roast for another 15 to 30 minutes, basting every 5 minutes or so with the melted butter until the surface of the lamb is browned and crisp. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for around 30 minutes.
Remove the lamb to a serving platter. Strain any pan juices into a bowl or gravy boat and serve on the side. Serve with bread or couscous and a simple salad. Diners can help themselves to the meat by pinching off portions from the platter.

MÉCHOUI VARIATIONS
North African Spice Blend: For a more complex flavor, add a spoonful of ras el hanout spice blend to the paprika, coriander, and cumin listed above.

Makroud is a traditional Algerian dessert. This pastry is composed of a date or almond stuffing and dipped in a sugar syrup or honey. Makroud are also eaten with coffee for breakfast. They will keep for over a month stored in a well-sealed container.

ALGERIAN ALMOND COOKIES

Makes 20 to 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS

Almonds, whole, blanched — 1 1/4 pound
Sugar — 1 cup
Eggs, beaten lightly — 2
Water — 2 cups
Sugar — 1/2 cup
Orange flower water — 1 tablespoon
Powdered (confectioners) sugar — 3 cups

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the almonds and sugar in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely pulverized. Remove to a bowl.
Make a well in the center of the almonds and stir in the eggs with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together. Then knead the dough with clean hands until smooth.
Cut the dough into 4 equal portions and remove to a floured work surface. Roll one portion out into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter. Press down with your palm to flatten the rope to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the rope on a diagonal into 1-inch pieces and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake cookies for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned on top. Remove to racks and cool completely.
While the cookies bake, bring the water and 1/2 cup sugar to a rapid boil in a saucepan over high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar and let boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Stir in the orange flower water.
Put powdered sugar in a large bowl. To finish, dip each cookie first in the sugar syrup to moisten. Then toss each cookie in the confectioner’s sugar to coat well. Shake off the extra sugar, place on a rack to dry and repeat with the rest of the cookies.

MAKROUD VARIATIONS
Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest to the almond dough.
If you are unable to find orange flower water to flavor the syrup, try using 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.


Grilled Lamb Chops For Dinner

2 servings

Ingredients

4 loin lamb chops

Marinade

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced.
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a ziplock bag and place the bag in the refrigerator for several hours.
Bring to room temperature before cooking.
Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.
Place the lamb on the grill and cook 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving platter and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Stuffed Mushrooms

2 servings

Ingredients

8 large mushroom caps, stems removed
Olive oil

Filling

1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place 2-3 slices of firm bread in the processor and pulse until crumbs form. Combine the crumbs the remaining filling ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stuff the caps with the mixture and place them in a small, oiled baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the mushrooms for 20 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown.

Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto

Ingredients

1 bunch thin asparagus spears (about 20-21 spears)
10 very thin slices Prosciutto de Palma
Olive oil
Coarse black pepper

Directions

Bundle 4 asparagus together and wrap each in two slices of prosciutto. Place the bundles on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle the prosciutto wrapped spears with olive oil and black pepper. Roast in a 425 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes.


Mediterranean Syria

The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. This series continues with the country of Syria.

Burj Safita (AKA Chastel Blanc), a landmark in the town of Safita

Think Mediterranean diet and Italian and Greek food comes to mind. But the Mediterranean coastline spans thousands more miles throughout the Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. The Middle Eastern Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and red wine. However, it also offers delicious and different flavors not found in southern European food, such as unique spices, tangy fruits and healthy seeds, some of which include pomegranate juice, mint, sesame and yogurt.

Beach in Latakia

Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb, mutton and poultry), dairy products, bulgur, sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, wheat flour, pine nuts, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, grape leaves, pickled turnips or cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a spice mixture called “baharat mushakkaleh” (Arabic: بهارات مشكّلة‎‎), hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and fruits.

One of the many highlights of Syrian food is mezza, the tapas of the Middle East. Mezza refers to a generous spread of small dishes, mostly eaten without cutlery, using flat bread, lettuce or grape leaves to scoop up dips or to wrap portions of salad. Baba ghanouj and hummus, both well-known in the West, are key elements of a traditional mezza. Another favorite in Syria is muhammara, a spicy pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses. Salads include tabbouleh, a parsley and bulgur mix; fattoush, a crunchy cucumber, radish, tomato and herb salad topped with toasted pita; and fateh, a salad with chickpeas, yogurt, tahini and garlic. Other finger foods include baked pastries filled with meat and spices called sambusic or spinach and baked lamb pies called sfeeha. Kibbeh is the national dish and comes in many varieties with the core element being cracked wheat and fresh ground lamb or beef that is seasoned with spices.

For Syrians, presentation is everything. Making the food look appetizing and setting the table appropriately are very important. Everything, even the simplest dishes, are garnished with fresh herbs.

Syrian Recipes To Make At Home

Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Adapted from a recipe from Mary Sanom

Ingredients

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef
1 lb. long grain white rice, uncooked
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 small green pepper (finely diced)
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of tomato paste
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
Grape leaves (16 oz jar hold about 60 leaves)
1 lemon

Directions

Place the rice in a large bowl, pour boiling water over to cover it and let soak for 1 hour.Drain well.

Mix ground meat, soaked rice, onion, green pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and tomato sauce in large bowl.

Place enough grape leaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot.

This will keep the filled grape leaves from sticking to the pot and burning.

To fill the grape leaves:

Lay out a grape leaf with the vein side up.

Place a small amount of the meat and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat and to roll up like a cigar.

Continue rolling the grape leaves and laying them in the bottom row in the prepared pot,

When the first layer of grape leaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves.

Keep rolling up all the leaves and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves/or no more filling/or the pot is ¾ full.

Place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the rolls from floating during cooking and coming unrolled.

Mix together the tomato paste and water. Pour the tomato/water mixture over leaves until they are just covered.

If the leaves are not covered, add additional water until they are covered.

Add a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot

Cover the pot with a lid and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the leaves are tender.

Take out a roll from the top of the pot and test it. Place the grape leaves on a platter to serve.

Retain some of the cooking liquid to reheat the leftover rolls.

Aubergine Fetteh (Fetteh Beitinjaan)

Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a Syrian speciality.

Ingredients

3 aubergines(eggplant)
Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
Salt
2 flatbreads or pitas
500g plain yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
50g pine nuts, toasted
Salt, to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.

Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise, slice them into 1 inch chunks and place in a baking pan.

Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt.

Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.

Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until crispy. Then break it up into pieces.

In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.

Take the eggplant out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl then pour the yogurt mix on top.

When ready to serve, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.

Spiced Fish (Samaka Harra)

Serves 2

Ingredients

6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup/40g walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole fish, such as sea bream or snapper
1 bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, including the stems
1 lemon, plus ½ lemon, sliced

Directions

Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, chilies, cumin, walnuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Stuff the fish with this mixture, reserving two tablespoons for later, then add a handful of coriander, saving some to garnish.

Squeeze the whole lemon over both fish, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Place the fish in a large baking pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of stuffing on top and a couple of slices of lemon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Milk Pudding (Muhallabiyeh)

This is a very light dessert that is simple and can be prepared far in advance. Syrians say the name of this pudding comes from the Umayyad Prince of Damascus, Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra. One day, the bored potentate ordered his servants to make him something different, a special pudding, and this is what they came up with using the only ingredients they had available – milk, sugar, starch and mastic. The pudding then became known as the ‘milk of the princes’, but commoners soon caught onto how simple it was to prepare and it became known amongst them as the ‘milk of the commons’. Today, people flavor the milk with a variety of spices, depending on each individual’s taste. This pudding has a smooth texture, with the nuts on top adding a crunch, which Syrians love.

Serves 12

Ingredients

1 quart/litre milk
1 cup/​200g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch/cornflour, mixed with water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose-water or orange blossom water
2 tablespoons/20g pistachios, crushed
Rose petals, to decorate (optional)

Directions
In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and sugar over low heat, stirring regularly.

Just before it boils, add the cornstarch mix and stir constantly until it thickens, then add the vanilla and rose or orange blossom water.

Once it reaches a thick consistency, pour the mix into individual bowls or trifle glasses and let cool.

Once cool, put them in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the pudding with the crushed pistachios and for extra color, rose petals.

Source: Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Published by Trapeze.


The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. This series continues with the country of Turkey.

Turkish cuisine varies across the country. The cooking of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir and the rest of the Aegean region inherits many elements of the Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, koftas and a wider availability of vegetable stews (türlü), eggplant, stuffed dolmas and fish. The cuisine of the Black Sea Region uses fish extensively, especially the Black Sea anchovy (hamsi) and includes maize dishes. The cuisine of the southeast (e.g. Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana) is famous for its variety of kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, şöbiyet, kadayıf and künefe. In the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees grow abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking.

The cuisine of Turkey’s Mediterranean regions are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Although meat-based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in restaurants and literature, native Turkish daily meals, however, largely center around rice, vegetables and bread. Dolma, rice and meat stuffed vegetables, are frequently prepared throughout the country, most often with peppers, grape leaves or tomatoes. The eggplant is the country’s most beloved vegetable, with zucchini a popular second and then beans, artichokes, cabbage, usually prepared in olive oil. Pilav (pilaf), Turkish rice, is a common filling for dolmas, as well as a common side dish. Various grains are used to make pide (flat bread), simit (sesame rings) and börek, a flaky, layered pastry filled with meat or cheese that is often eaten for breakfast.

Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialties include: lamb, beef, rice, fish, eggplant, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, zucchini and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine, and are used extensively in desserts or eaten separately. Semolina flour is used to make a cake called revani and irmik helvasi. Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, pul biber (red pepper), allspice, urfa biber and thyme. Olives are also common on various breakfast and meze tables. In Turkey ‘iftars’ (the breaking of fasts) are generally opened with date palms. “Beyaz peynir” and yogurt are part of many dishes at that meal, including börek, manti, kebab and cacik.

Turks enjoy three meals a day. Kahvalti (kah-vall-tuh), or breakfast, is generally a light meal consisting of fresh tomatoes, beyaz (salty cheese), black olives, bread with jam and honey and an occasional soft-boiled egg. Freshly baked bread and tea are almost always present. Sucuk (a spicy sausage) and pastirma (seasoned beef) are frequently prepared in the wintertime. Those in a hurry often stop at a street cart or büfe (food stand) to grab a quick börek , a flaky, mince or cheese filled pastry, or simit, a bread ring topped with sesame seeds. Muslims do not consume pork products, making bacon absent from most menus.

Öyle yemek (oy-leh yem-eck), or lunch, is traditionally a heartier (and warmer) meal than breakfast. Çorbalar, or soups, are served in a variety of ways, and most commonly include lentils and vegetables and meats. Larger lunch items include baked lamb or chicken served with peppers and eggplant, and fresh grilled fish with a side of lemon. Rice and bulgar pilaf dishes are also popular. Lahmacun (lah-mah-jun), Turkish pizza, is popular among children. It consists of a thin crust and a layer of spicy ground lamb and tomato sauce. Tost, a grilled cheese sandwich, is also popular.

Akam yemek (ak-sham yem-eck), or dinner, is the largest meal of the day. Mezeler (or mezze, singular), are “appetizers” served before the main meal. Most mezeler dishes are large enough to comprise an entire meal by themselves. Salads, soups, pilaf-stuffed fish and köfte (fried minced meatballs) can leave diners quite full. A meat dish accompanied by starchy vegetables (such as potatoes) typically follows. Seasonal fresh fruits or milky puddings are most often enjoyed for dessert.

Turks are extremely hospitable and enjoy company. They will welcome even unexpected guests with Turkish coffee. Meals are traditionally served on a large tray, placed on a low table or on the floor. The family and guests sit on cushions on the floor around the prepared foods. To avoid accidentally insulting the host, it is best to not refuse second or third helpings. It is also customary to remove one’s shoes at the door and offer a small gift to the host for their generosity.

Source: Food In Every Country

Make Some Turkish Recipes At Home

There is a metric conversion tool in the right hand column of this blog page, should you need it.

Εggplant Spread

This eggplant dish is usually served as a dip or spread with pita bread or vegetable sticks but can also be served as a side dish to any barbecue cookout.

Ingredients

3 large, round eggplants-aubergines
100 gr of olive oil
1 lemon
1 onion
Salt & white pepper
Parsley

Directions

Chop the onion and place in 1 cup of water.

Rinse and dry the aubergines and prick them with a fork.

Bake the aubergines in the oven (375 degrees F) or on a charcoal grill for about an hour.

Remove from the heat and cool

Peel off the skin, remove the seeds, cut them in long slices and lay on a cutting board.

Mash them with a wooden spoon or a pestle.

Drain the onion well. Put the aubergines in a bowl add the onion, the salt, pepper and blend by hand or in a processor.

Add lemon and oil and whisk the mixture well.

Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.

Turkish Grandma’s Wheat Soup

(Buğday Çorbasi)

Ingredients

1 ½ cups shelled whole wheat kernels
4 cups of yogurt
6 cups of chicken broth or stock
1 egg
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
Mint leaves
Aleppo pepper
Salt

Directions

Soak the wheat overnight in water. Drain well.

Place the yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth and let the excess liquid drain out for a minimum of 5 to 6 hours, or overnight if possible.

Place the wheat in a large pot with the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain the soup. If desired, puree in food processor.

Place the strained yogurt in a small pan with the egg and flour over medium heat, constantly mixing well. This will help prevent curdling.

If the mixture is too thick you can add ¼ cup of water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk it into the wheat mixture, cooking over low heat and adding more chicken broth or water if the soup is too thick.

Stir in salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

In a small skillet melt the butter and when it is hot and sizzles turn the heat off and quickly add a handful of mint leaves and Aleppo pepper to taste, mixing well. Pour in circles on top of the soup.

Mini Kebabs

Ingredients

For the kebabs
½ kg lean ground beef or lamb, minced
2 thick slices of day old bread
2 tablespoons tahini
½ clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
12 wooden skewers, soaked in water
Olive oil

For the yogurt dip
250 ml. Greek yogurt, 2% fat
1 tablespoon mint, fresh (chopped) or dried
½ teaspoon cumin
Salt, pepper

For serving
Chopped parsley
Chopped tomatoes
Mini pita breads

Directions

Soak the bread in water until completely soft.

Drain well and knead in the beef together with all the remaining kebab ingredients until you have a homogeneous mix.

Season well according to taste.

Take about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and form oblong sausage-shaped kebabs. Thread these onto the soaked wooden skewers.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to firm up.

Heat an outdoor grill and oil the grates.

Brush the kebabs with olive oil, place them on the grill for 20 minutes turning frequently, until golden.

To make the yogurt dip, combine all the ingredients and season well.

Serve 2 kebabs per person, on warm pita bread topped with parsley and chopped tomatoes with the dip on the side.

Chickpea and Couscous Croquettes

Ingredients

300 gr boiled chickpeas
125 gr couscous, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, squeezed
3 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
3 onions, cut into thick slices
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mustard
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil
Rosemary, thyme

Directions

Put the couscous, chickpeas, onion, tomato, wine, soy sauce, mustard, garlic, parsley and olive oil into the food processor.

Add rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Blend the mixture. Leave in the refrigerator for at least one hour to thicken.

Shape the mixture into medium-sized round croquettes and fry them in hot oil until golden brown. Drain.

Serve with a yogurt sauce:

Mix 1 cup strained yogurt with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 finely chopped tomato, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, 1 grated garlic clove and 1 pinch each cumin and coriander powder.

Seker Pare

These traditional Turkish cookies are called seker pare which means sweet bits in Turkish.

Ingredients

300 gr flour
180 gr semolina
240 gr butter, melted
170 gr icing sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
45-50 almonds, blanched
750 gr sugar
600 ml water
½ tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 347F/175C.

Prepare the syrup. Boil the water, sugar and lemon juice for 10 minutes; allow to cool.

Break the eggs into a glass bowl, add the icing sugar and blend with a hand-held mixer for 3 – 5 minutes.

Add the melted butter, baking powder and salt and continue to mix for a further 5 minutes.

Finally, add the flour and semolina and knead until the dough becomes smooth and uniform.

Break off a piece of dough (walnut sized), roll into a ball, press the top lightly between the palms of the hands and place on a greased baking pan. Do the same with the rest of the dough.

Insert an almond into the center of each ball. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes.

When ready, remove the cookies from the oven and pour the cold syrup over.

Leave them in the syrup for 1 hour before serving.



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